The events and characters described are all fictitious. Any similarity to any persons, living or exploded, is entirely coincidental and any complaint should be addressed to a firm of solicitors who will have no idea who I am.
May 198-, St. Peter's College, Oxford. A May day like many another May day. Little noise but the distant thrum of tourists disturbing the peace of Radcliffe Square, and the odd metallic clash of the far-off Clarendon centre ghetto-blaster. There was little noise but an impetuous sparrow was twittering pathetically - SPC dustbins were no place to scavenge; it would never be impetuous again. Here and there finalists racked their brains, trying to remember the ways to their faculties; and in the library, freshmen with up-and-coming exams wondered vaguely whether they could get out by the same door as they had used when coming in. In a few hours they'd try and find out.
Richard Head tried to remember where he'd put his virginity. The bank wanted it as collateral for an extension on his overdraft, and he couldn't remember where he'd put it. He groaned. He pulled his duvet back over the epicentre of what felt like a small earthquake lingering somewhere between his temples, and swallowed very hard indeed.
Somewhere else in the College a pair of curtains closed themselves like a pair of malignant eyelids. A crazed brain whirled and span as it anticipated what it anticipated might just possibly happen if things went according to plan sometime in the next couple of hours, more or less, with any luck. A blue-veined hand, trembling with malicious excitement reached for 'A History of Thirteenth Century Italian Heresiarchs' by Dr. E. Blyton. A firmish pair of buttocks, rumbling with noisome intent, lowered themselves into an armchair, and waited, brooding.
Across the quadrangle a shy retiring not-terribly-tall American emerged from the hours when music wasn't allowed and headed for the Lodge. Under one arm he carried the score of an obscure sonata by Buxtehude (in B major).
He was getting bored with darts. He wasn't getting any better, and then for some reason, which he couldn't quite fathom, he had to keep buying chocolate bars for people. He'd decided to console himself by trying out a new piece. He didn't suppose he'd be successful with her either, so first he was going to go and hammer the ivories for a while. In the Lodge, the Porter went throught the complicated rigmarole necessary for the removal of the music-room key from the College safe, and gave the Amrican a cursory once over with the geiger-counter. The reading was low.
"Aaarzur", expatiated the Porter.
"Thonx", said the American.
Sometimes they found it hard to understand one another.
The American rounded the corner to the music-room where he let himself in, and after ten minutes he found a light that worked. Then, still clutching the precious Buxtehude (in B major), he whisked the first yard of dust-cloth away from the gleaming surface of the really pretty valuable Battenburg piano. As he did so, what appeared to be a random scrap of paper fluttered floorwards. He ignored it; and that sealed his fate.
He set up the music stand and opened the Buxtehude (in B major). He cracked his fingers and scanned the first few bars. It was a tricky one.
"Oh wawl", he thought to himself, "I'll stoit wit some excercoises." Sometimes he found it difficult to understand himself, himself. He stretched his fingers and prepared to play the scale of A minor (both hands). He struck the As - thumb and little finger working in perfect harmony. He glided onto the Bs - the hollow octave ringing out like a tolling bell. The middle fingers of both hands fell like executioners' axes on the middle C and the octave above.
Suddenly he felt worse than he might have done breaking the Noisy Aurora record twice in ten minutes. Little bits of the Niersteiner piano were sticking from every part of the front of his body, the E flat above middle C, it seemed, was trying to pick his nose; and then, an instant later, great lumps of the wall behind him were coming through his back. "If only Kit were here", he thought. And then he thought no more.
To Richard Head, it seemed that his hangover got suddenly a great deal worse. In a rare moment of weakness he even considered giving up Varsity - but lager made him belch, and things.
His head, he felt certain, had just exploded, and he could hear little bits of his skull landing on the floor. Then the cool logician in him took over; if his head had indeed exploded, then his ears shold have gone too; but if his skull landing on the floor was still audible, then he must still have his ears, and if he still had his ears, then almost certainly most of his head remained as well. He greeted this conclusion with a mixture of relief and dismay. Relief, because if he were minus his head, then he would be minus his mouth too, and without his mouth, drinking might conceivably prove difficult. Dismay, because retention of his head would mean having to put up with the hangover that inevitably went with it. He wondered whether trepanning might help.
The Junior Dean heard the noise too. It was clearly excessive. Perhaps he could fine someone.
In the library, first year examinees wondered which finalist had decided to put an end to it all; and all over Oxford, SPC finalists looked up from books, meals, pints and girlfriends and worried that maybe a beer-barrel had self destructed.
In the JCR a dusky pool-hustler looked confused. The vibrations had shaken the eight-ball into the corner pocket; and in the bar, closed but not deserted, Bardolph Mersey swore; the explosion had put him off as he went for his seventy-eighth 180 of the day.
In the MCR no one batted an eyelid when one of the American's severed hands flew through the Railway Carriage window and landed in the microwave oven. No one noticed. A tall bespectacled figure in a brand-new evening-suit (shirt hanging out) swung the door to and sold the lightly roasted hand to a notorious man-eater for thirty pence. No one had batted an eyelid, but everyone had noticed the noise, and they all planned to swan over and find out what had happened, after they had had their lunches.
In other words, the College became alive with speculation, but no one was willing to show this un-British enthusiasm for gossip and scandal too openly, and so everyone stayed rooted to their chairs, just waiting for an opportunity or an excuse to wander across to the Lodge, or visit the first floor lavatories in Latner.
Richard Head had no such scruples. Taking advantage of the fact that he had found a pair of underpants that had been used, so far as he could recall, for under a week, he got dressed. He had been having some very strange dreams that morning, but he couldn't for the life of him remember what they were. At the forefront of his mind, however, was the knowledge that a large portion of the College, which had once been on the other side of the quad, wasn't there any more. Richard's view of the College was not uncritical, he knew that it had its faults: the bar opening hours for example, or the fact that the groundsman hadn't realised that the Second World War had come to an end, and was still using the cricket pitch as an allotment; but he was also loyal, and if a Worcester College oarsman had implied that the Isis supplied a better pint than the SPC bar, then Richard would have been the first to give him the lie, and prove his point by practical action. Now, it seemed, some envious engineer, from Brasenose perhaps, had decided to start mining operations just where the Eggy race was due to start some time in the not too far distant future. Things looked serious, and if that meant that Richard would have to get up early, then that was a bummer, but it had to be done.
Breakfast was meagre. He swallowed the five aspirins with grim satisfaction, and chased them down with the remains of his last pint of the night before. Some day, he thought to himself, he would have to take back a few of the empty glasses; but he would need to go into training for the job.
Then, pulling on a Jackson Pollock designer jumper, he set off down the stairs.
Not everybody in the College had stayed away from the blast site. A group of dons were standing in a circle arguing about who ought to be telephoned.
"We should phone the bomb squad", said Sir Frances Wornher, whose wig was famous throughout the University: "I think we should, by God. It's clear a bomb's exploded. Do you think rhyme's outmoded?"
Richard, hearing the distraught don's cracked and emotional voice, could only admire the venerable man's determination to be eccentric. The swarthy Wadi-bel-Iggerunt was replying: "Of course not, you cretin, the bomb, as you have so observantly noted, has already gone off. We don't need the bomb squad, we need a doctor". At this point several SCR members volunteered themselves. Richard decided to volunteer as well.
"I'm a medical student", he said, "But I'm afraid to say I think whoever it was is a goner". The semi-hysterical dons turned to this new voice of authority like iron filings to a magnet.
"A goner?", they chorused.
"Dead", said Head.
"Oh golly!" rejoined the dons.
"Yes", said Richard.
"Does this mean I won't be able to fine him for making too much noise?" the Junior Dean looked upset.
"And what about his battells?" clearly, the Domestic Bursar was close to breaking point.
"It rather looks", said Richard, "as if he is beyond all cares. He has gone to that great real ale brewery in the sky". He was disgusted. Here was a fellow undergraduate of his lying in little pieces all over what remained of the music-room and the noble Buchsfix piano, and all they could think of with the narrow academic minds they possessed, was the mercenary aspects of the case. He took a closer look at the bloody remains, and lifted, intact, a pair of squarish-framed spectacles which he instantly recognised as the American's. Inside the outrage which he felt at the cold-blooded murder boiled anew. The American owed him a drink.
Prompted by his last remark, and by the provocative reply of "One can't be certain about that", muttered by the Chaplain, the dons had instinctively formed themselves into a seminar on the likelihood of CAMRA operating beyond the bourn from which no man returns.
"You may very well hold that external objects promise nothing in the face of eternal bliss", twittered the Regius professor of Military History Major Heart-Surgery, "but surely they may be necessary promptings to a feeling of well-being. Even Christ was required to harrow the pit of hell to what must have been horribly uncomfortable circumstances, what with the heat and things. If external objects can contribute to suffering, then you must allow that they can contribute to happiness as well".
"Nonsense", said the Master, looking as ever like a very tall starling listening for worms. "Even a cursory reading of Blyton's book on the heresies of the thirteenth century would tell you that...."
But he was interrupted by Richard who was springing from the wreck of the music-room, scraps of paper in each hand. "Look", he said. "Clues".
"Hang on a second, you intellectual midget" said the Major, and he turned to the Master. "I'm interested to hear, Master, that you have read Blyton's book. In my view it is a sadly neglected work of scholarship".
"Oh I don't know about that", said Sir Frances. "Entirely necessary for a retrospective study on the influence of Italian writing in medieval English attitudes".
"I like what it has to say about torture and pain and things", said Enrique de Torquemada de Frutasbatos, the mysterious lecturer in whatever the Honour School of Experimental Psychology happened to be.
"I read it while on holiday last year", volunteered a Biochemist. "Couldn't understand a word of it".
Richard lost his patience:
"Listen you morons", he shouted. "A man is lying here dead as a nail. And here. And some of him over there too, and all you can do is to disappear up your own bottoms. The police must be called. The evidence must be sifted. The flag must be moved to half-mast. Weltschmertz must be called to come and replace the statuesque piano. The culprit must be found and duly punished".
Five minutes later, after receiving a fine of £20 for the heinous crime of calling a distinguished body of academics morons from the Junior Dean, Richard strode into the JCR to ponder the situation and count the nipples in 'The Sun'.
He was shocked. The Senior Fellows had confabulated and agreed that the matter should be treated as an internal affair, and that the police should not be called, as that would attract adverse publicity to what was, after all, one of the poorest of the Oxford colleges. When he had tried to protest, the Master had patted him on the back and told him not to worry, of course they would put the flag at half-mast. The porter said "Aaarzur" and went to do it.
"Now then", said the Master, "What's your subject?"
"Law", Richard had said, impulsively.
"Well, then", said the Master, "you'd better run along to your lectures, there's a good chap".
And here he was, tabloid open on his lap, trying to work out what he should do. Richard was probably in his fourth or fifth year, he wasn't really sure. It might even have been more than that. The truth was that some while ago he had forgotten what subject he was meant to be studying, and his tutor, whoever that happened to be, fuddled by never receiving notes or messages of apology explaining his absence from tutorials , had forgotten that he existed. As a result, he remained on the College lists because everybody assumed that he must be somebody else's responsibility. Sometimes his grant was a little bit late , but if he wrote to his Local Authority explaining that he wouldn't be able to go into industry if he couldn't afford to finish his course, they always coughed up in the end (His Local Authority was still Conservative controlled).
That day he had witnessed something strange and tragic. Viewing the body, or what remained of it, he had come to realise where Ronald MacDonald had got his ideas from. Then he had found the note, which he still had in his pocket. He took it out and read it through:
"A WARNING. TO HOOM IT MAY CONSERN. THIS PEANNO IS BOOBY TRAPED. DO NOT HIT THE C ABOVE MIDDLE C OR YOU WILL MEAT A GRISTLY FETE."
Underneath this it was signed:
"CAMBRIGG UNITED BOOT BOIS"
The other piece of paper which Richard had found was the title page of the Buxtehude (in B major). Poor sod, thought Richard, he must have played a bum note. But someone, sometime, would have hit the C above middle C, if only out of curiosity. No one, it seemed to Richard, would have believed that the note were anything other than the demented joke of some dyspeptic Northern Chemist. The bomb had been there, however, and a man who owed him a drink was now providing free food for the birds. The note puzzled him. On the face of it, it seemed just the sort of illiterate scribbling one would expect of someone from Cambridge, or from a Northern Chemist; but there was the odd word that was out of place. "Meat a gristly fete" reminded him of his Ronald MacDonald idea; and the spelling of "Cambrigg" was surely more Chaucerian than accidental.
All this thinking was tiring him, and almost before he knew it the lost sleep had caught up with him, and he was lying on the bile-green JCR chairs snoring like a redundant breeding-stock boar.
When evening fell, and the soft rattle of the Ronnery bar's slatting as it rolled upwards permeated through the noise of ill-tempered bar-football matches, clicking pool-games, the ftang of the pinball machines and the inanities of whatever passed for Nationwide these days, Richard awoke, and staggered to the bar to buy his normal supper of a packet of cheese and onion crisps and seventeen or eighteen pints.
"Kroist, yewe dn arf look roit buggered, mystered", chattered the barman amiably. "Oi soar yewe 'avin a kip in the Jayseer on moi way threw, an' oi thort to moiself 'there's mystered avin a kip, oi bet e's roit buggered after challengin' that there crucket team to a drinkin' match singlanded larstnoit', oi thort".
"Oh really", said Richard, wondering what the hell the jolly chap had just said. "Give me a pint of bitter will you? And you'd better put a double Scotch on top". Richard scratched his pubes, thoughtfully, then he added: "Oh and you'd better have one yourself".
"Thankuzur", replied the barman. Then, pointing behind Richard he continued: "Roit shame about poor ol mysterawk, an' now it seems the ol' Jayseer's gonna coppit".
Richard looked behind him and focussed on a large bright black-and-white poster newly affixed to the wall. He caught his breath. This is what it said:
BOMB DETONATIONThe implications of the Junior Dean's threat swam before Richard's eyes. If the JCR were required to fork out that much money, then there must be an even chance of the bar prices going up. It was unthinkable. And there was, so far as he could see, no reason to assume that it was a JCR member who had been responsible: if anyone had wanted revenge on the American, then all he had to do was challenge him to a game of darts. No, something fishy was going on, and he, Richard, was going to find out what it was. Richard had decided: he was going to become a private Dick.
This morning a bomb was detonated in the music-room causing the death of an American undergraduate. More importantly, the valuable Goebbels piano was ruined in the blast, and the noise that the detonation caused, despite being within music-hours was excessive to those wishing to work. If the culprit does not deliver himself into the custody of the Junior Dean within the next forty-eight hours then he (the Junior Dean) will fine the JCR at least #15,000. Come on boys.
Written in the hope of avoiding a #25 fine for indecent assault on the pool table by, J. Coprolite.
Later that evening Richard, stone-cold sober, for a change, with only seven or eight pints inside him, wandered nonchalantly into the Lodge. It hadn't been difficult to organise what was about to happen, and ten minutes conversation with Bardolph Mersey had been enough to set it up. Bardolph's friend Duncan Disorderly, a junior fellow, was invited across from his college St. Benet's Hall to stage a fake second round University singles match. At a crucial moment in the proceedings, Duncan would turn his back, and Bardolph would complete a perfect 170 shot-out without Duncan's witnessing it. There would then be an argument, and Wanda Gotobed, a first year female with a particularly pert pair of fluttering eyelids would be despatched to the Lodge to fetch the iron fist of officialdom.
He stood in the gloomy fluorescence of the Lodge corridor, patiently scanning sports club notices. The drinking team, he noted with personal pride, had reached the semi-final of the drinking cuppers; the cricket captain was offering the reward of a jug of Varsity to anyone who could get five wickets by the end of term; and the first rowing eight was going on a 6 a.m. outing the following day. Perhaps, thought Richard, he'd take up cricket.
Suddenly a shout came from the direction of the bar, and Wanda came sprinting into the Lodge. She winked broadly at Richard as she went past. Her voice was beautifully modulated as she swung back the Porter's hatch:
"Quick, quick, quick. O please Mr. Porter. There's a dreadful fight hapening in the bar and I'm so afraid that someone will inflict possibly fatal injuries on the horrid, horrid man who attacked poor mild Bardolph Mersey when he so cleverly won the darts match with a super-impressive ton-seventy shot-out. Oh , do come quickly".
There was a muffled grunt of "Aaarmuz" from the Porter's hatch and the burly man was soon limping manfully past Richard, struggling into standard Bulldog-issue riot gear, Wanda hard on his heels. She gave Richard another heart-quickening wink as she went past.
As he had hoped, the Porter, in his haste to get to the scene of the crime and eject the interloper from the College, had left the door open, and Richard quickly slid inside. In no time at all (and by this time, he reckoned, Duncan would be making his escape over the Social Studies lawn; with any luck someone would have told him where the ladder was)(where was I?)(Oh yes) In no time at all he had located the music-room booking book, and had found the relevant pages. Sure enough, the American's name had been entered in advance of his use of the room, so anyone glancing at the book would have known who was due to play the first C above middle C of the day. But on the previous evening, the last user of the mellifluous Dusseldorf piano, the man who had had the best opportunity to place the bomb and leave the note revealed himself to be, a woman. Richard gasped. It was unthinkable that Enid Vane, the famous tippler of Yorkshire ales, the Batley boozer, St. Peter's College's answer to Russ Conway should also be the person responsible for the death of a fellow undergraduate. Intentionally, at any rate.
Richard's fine-tuned brain memorised the information that he had gleaned from the booking book, and he slid out of the Porter's cubicle and back to the bar.
Someone had bought the Porter a drink, and he was propping up one corner of the bar. After complimenting him on the smartness of his riot gear, Richard managed to establish that as far as he was concerned, the last person to use the music-room the previous evening had indeed been Enid Vane. Richard bought two pints of foaming nut-brown Varsity ale and scanned the luxurious upholstery of the much-frequented College retreat and buttery. Sure enough, there she was in one corner all by herself, College tie marinading in her glass of comfort; curly, straw-coloured hair surmounting a face only recently cleared of adolescent acne. She was in the habit of allowing her tie to soak in the beer so that she could suck it during tutorials and so remind herself that life was still worth living. At the moment she was looking shell-shocked. The loss of the smooth-actioned Achtung Spitfeuer piano had clearly hit her hard; or perhaps, thought Richard, just perhaps, the guilt of a possible rise in bar prices was getting through to her.
"Have a pint", he said, "they may not be this price for much longer". He looked closely for any reaction to his leading question, but she merely transferred her tie from one glass to the other, and muttered a thankyou. Richard sat down.
"Tell me", he went on, "did you see anything mysterious when you were consorting with the muse yestereve?" There were times when it seemed to Richard that perhaps his original subject had been English: Sir Frances would certainly have had difficulty noticing his absence - he Richard wasn't, after all, a girl.
"Yerwot?" said Enid, reasonably enough.
"You were playing the piano last night. Was there anything strange about the room?"
"No", she said, "Nary a dickie bird".
"How quaint", said Richard. He reached into his pocket and extracted the warning-note. "And this doesn't jog your memory?"
"Never saw it before in me life". Enid silently downed half a pint and unconcernedly began to pick her nose.
"It doesn't mean anything to you?" Enid took the note and looked it over.
"Aye", she said, and handed it back to Richard. There was a moment's silence.
"Well, what?" Richard was getting impatient.
"Any student of theology could tell you", she said. "That scrap of paper has been torn from the title page of Dr. E. Blyton's 'History of Thirteenth Century Heresiarch's futtocks'".
"Golly", said Richard, "That rings a bell".
"You a theologian too then?" Enid looked interested.
"Possibly. Now look, do you have any idea who has keys to the safe that the music-room key is kept in?"
"Oh aye. There's the Porter, and the Domestic Bursar, the Junior Dean, and the Master".
"And you didn't see any of them in the region of the Lodge last night?"
"It may surprise the socks from thee feet, but I saw the Porter in the Lodge". Richard shrugged off the subtle Northern humour.
"But none of the others?"
The following day, soon after he got up, Richard moved amongst those partaking of College lunch in search of anyone who might have seen the guilty party in or about the Lodge or music-room two nights previously. There were normally one or two people who hung about the library, lingering with intent until the wee small hours. People with street-credibility hair-dos and colourful clothes. They ought to be easy to spot in amongst the dun-hued College lunches. They weren't.
Richard shifted his search to the MCR and there discovered Semen Whipped-Cream, the notorious SPC nearly-but-not-quite-gay-person. Semen, it transpired, had spent the night in question underneath the table-tennis table, and so had seen the feet of everyone that had gone past in the course of the crucial time. The Porter had been heard snoring at midnight, and Semen hadn't noticed the Domestic Bursar anywhere in the vicinity.
"What about the Junior Dean?" Semen was practising flicking his hair back from his forehead, and was watching his reflection in the highly polished surface of an yashtray; considering this, Richard added: "And the Master, you f***ing narcissist".
"Thanks for the compliment, ducky", replied Semen, obviously genuinely touched. "It's hard to say. One expects to see the Junior Dean around about the Lodge, and sure enough, his feet went past the window several times, in both directions. He was normally accompanied by someone else, but at about one a.m. he went into the Lodge all by himself. He was singing".
"Singing?" Richard was sceptical. One a.m. was outside music hours and it seemed unlikely that the highly-principled Junior Dean would contravene the regulations he so diligently enforced. "What was he singing?"
While Semen was trying to remember Richard reflected that perhaps the Junior Dean's law-abiding exterior was just a front for what was underneath a crazed criminal genius.
"Oh, I remember", said Semen, cocking his wrist in an alarming manner. "It went something like: "It's a Feinz superday, feinz superday, feinz superday".
"Listen, Semen", said Richard, "This is potentially terrifically important. Did he appear to be carrying anything heavy? Was he obviously labouring under a heavy load?"
"Now you come to mention it, I think he probably was". Richard was disappointed. It sounded most likely that the Junior Dean was carrying the day's batch of feinz to the Lodge to empigeonhole them. That, however, did not prove that he hadn't used this perfectly understandable act as a cover for something far more reprehensible.
"Now, how about the Master? Did he go past?"
"I shouldn't think so", said Semen. "I went to one of his cheese and wine dos earlier in the evening and he was obviously trying to drown his sorrows. Some of the other Masters, Rectors, Principals, Deans, Wardens and Provosts had obviously been taking the piss out of him for having his College do so badly in the Norrington Table. He kept muttering 'Nyaah, nyaah, twenty-eighth, twenty-eighth' to himself".
"The bastards", said Richard. "Anyway, that's something to be proud of. It shows that we don't take life too seriously. It makes us far more attractive to potential employers".
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" said Semen, sniffing at his armpits to see if he had put on enough Aramis deodorant that day. "Anyway, I didn't see the Master in the Lodge last night".
"By the way, Semen", said Richard, "Why do you spend your nights underneath the table-tennis table?"
"I revise. I paste the things I want to read to the underside of the table and read them with an electric torch. I find sitting down rather a pain sometimes".
"Do you", said Richard, understanding.
Richard had a lot to ponder upon. He would need a conversation with the Junior Dean, and if it was true that that personage had been singing in the quad outside music hours, then maybe he'd be able to bribe his way out of his latest fine.
Around the corner a crowd from Whiffley Road were discussing the best way to get to the Taylorian Institute. To be a member of the club you had to be over five-foot ten and have defective vision. They used to practise being drunk by taking their glasses off and talking in French.
"Hi guys", said Richard.
"Ah, zee greyt Hercule, how-yoo-say, Welsh vegetable", they chorused, and then with more urgency: "Bouges, vite mon gar!!"
Richard bouged at their suggestion and was lucky. A blue and white cardboard thingy missed him by inches and oozed over the paving stones.
"Que'est que c'est que ca?" came the unanimous cry from the bespectacled, more-or-less incompetent darts team.
"A two week old milk carton from the sweetie-shop in George Street", said Richard grimly. "If it had hit me it would have been two hundred percent fatal and would have ruined my clothes. Except of course, for my Jackson Pollock sweater, which is specially designed to withstand the assaults of milk-cartons, JCR upholstery and puke".
"C'est serieux, hein?" said the tallest of the Whiffley Roadies, one Cal Abash. "Que pouvons-nous faire pour toi, mon vieux". Richard thought quickly. There was one possibility.
"Are any of you due to go to the Master's fromage-et-vin chosey, ce soir", he said, falling easily into the necessary vernacular. Several of them were. "Bien", he continued, "Or, ce que je veux que vous faisez..."
A yoghurt attack from the roof of Matthews was certainly no joke. It showed however that Richard was getting close. Someone was getting nervous. But who? At the moment the chief suspect would appear to be the Junior Dean; but what was missing from his calculations was a motive. The bomber might have chosen his victim at random, or could have looked in the booking book for the music-room to find a time when the American would be the sittingonthepianostool target. Was it therefore a personal vendetta, or was there some wider issue at stake? The American was a finalist. Was that significant? Was the Jewish Mafia involved? Or perhaps a rival piano firm wanted to bid for the replacement of the silvery-toned Oberleutnantgefuehrer.
Richard trudged thoughtfully towards the off-licence, where he bought some tinnies, drank them, and started back again. he must find the Junior Dean.
He found the Junior Dean counting money, and using a pocket calculator to tot up the week's takings. It was no secret around College that the J.D. was going for the record set by Dean Lockwood after a Rugby Club dinner sometime in 1978. It had occurred to Richard that perhaps he was using this latest incident as a way of achieving that aim. The question was, had he engineered it himself?
"I'll get straight to the point, J.D." said Richard, firmly. "You were heard an seen singing in the quadrangle at one in the morning the night before last. I want to know what you were doing there, and why you were contravening the College music-hours' regulations".
The Junior Dean swallowed hard, and lost count. "Damn", he said, "I'll have to start again. Look, Head", he said, combatively, "Where my singing is concerned, it is arguable whether it could possibly be counted as music".
"I have had it reliably reported to me that the tune was recognisable. And if you claim that your singing is that bad, then surely the noise you were making must have been unacceptable to those trying to sleep and work underneath table-tennis tables? Eh?" Richard finished his accusation forcefully, even brutally. The Junior Dean capitulated.
"Okay", he said, "I am hoist to my own petard. If you promise to say nothing about this to anyone sober then I shall be pleased to waive the fine I imposed on you yesterday afternoon".
"Good", said Richard, standing up, and beginning to pace about the room. "Now, you can tell me one or two other things while we're about it. Did you notice anyone suspicious about the Lodge while you were there?"
"Absolutely not". "Then it must have been you that placed that bomb in the gorgeous frame of the Goethesfaust piano". Richard wheeled on the J.D., picking up a book as he did so.
"What? what!, I didn't, I didn't I tell you. How could you think such a thing? Why should I do such a thing?"
"I'll tell you why J.D." Richard's voice was steely-hard and tremorless, not for nothing was he a leading expert on the novels of Dick Francis. "I'll tell you why. Because ever since you heard about Dean Lockwood's fining of the Rugby Club in 1978 you have been jealous. You wanted to match that figure so that you could go down in the annals of the College as the finest J.D. that there has ever been, and you would stop at nothing to achieve that ambition".
"No", said the J.D. "No, no, no, no. I don't need to achieve that distinction. I promise you. I've already got the record for one Dean fining one person. Ask James Coprolite, he'll tell you. I've taken over seven hundred pounds off him this term alone. I'm not a greedy man. One record is enough for me. But you must understand that when a J.D. is presented with an opportunity like the music-room bomb, then it's not something that he can easily resist. I just had to do it".
"Despite the fact that there is no proof that it was a JCR member that perpetrated the foul act?" The Junior Dean was beginning to blubber, he seemed close to breaking point.
"Alright", he said, sobbing uncontrollably, "Alright, I'll rescind the fine until I have more proof. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. So very, very sorry".
"Remember J.D., just keep it in mind, I'm keeping my eye on you".
"Yes", said the J.D. "I promise I'll behave". Richard, nearly satisfied, put the book back down on the desk, and strode from the room.
The Domestic Bursar was filling in the College kitchen voluntary embezzlement chart for the month of June. It worked like this: the College budgeted about #1.50 per meal, but didn't spend it. The remaining #1.45 went into the pocket of anybody on the College staff who won't start libel proceedings if they happen to read this. Pleased with the work in hand, the Domestic Bursar was admiring his typewriting skill when he became aware of somebody looking over his shoulder.
"Yes", said Richard triumphantly, "it was silly to align your desk so that it faced away from the door, wasn't it?" So saying, he tore the incriminating evidence from the battered Adler and pocketed it in one swift movement. "You will mend your ways, Mohammed, or the truth will out. And while I'm here, you can give me some more information. Where were you the evening before last?"
The Domestic Bursar was at the time making pathetic little grabbing movements in the direction of Richard's pocket, as if he were attempting to catch a non-existent yo-yo. Realising that he wasn't going to get the chart back, he turned on his oppressor snd snarled: "Why should I tell you, Head?"
"Because if you don't, then I shall write to the College Visitor about what you've been doing. He, so far as I can remember, is some Bishop or other, and I'm sure that he would fix it with his friends in high places that you wouldn't make it to Heaven". The Domestic Bursar gibbered.
"You wouldn't", he gasped, "You wouldn't do such an inhumane thing".
"Oh wouldn't I? Now, where were you the night before last? Tell me, I'm getting impatient".
"Well", said the Domestic Bursar, trying to control his rage and dismay, "There is of course no reason why I shouldn't tell you. I, and most of the other members of the SCR were at the inter-collegiate SCR Fancy-dress dinner".
"Were you indeed?" said Richard. This might explain a lot. "You had plenty of time then, in the course of the evening, to slip away from the do and plant a bomb in the piano".
"No I didn't".
"Yes you did". "I didn't".
"Oh all right then, I did. Have the time, that is. But you ask anyone. I got sconced at about eleven o'clock for talking about putting bromide in the College trifle. Two pints of vintage port I had to drink, all at once, and I can't remember anything after that".
"Pathetic", muttered Richard.
"Anyway, why should I have done such a thing?"
"Simple. The Chavasse Dinner is not far off. You would have known that the Junior Dean would impose a heavy fine on the JCR for the damage done to the music-room. The income generated by that fine would have meant that you could afford to lay on a real spread on the night of the Chavasse, without yourself having to take any out in earnings from your little embezzlement scheme". The dreadful logic of Richard's hypothesis hit home. The Domestic Bursar was beginning to crumble before his very eyes.
"But I didn't do it, I tell you. Frutasbatos brought me back. I went to the shindig as Edward II, and I haven't been able to sit down without a cushion ever since".
"But you must admit that you have an impeccable motive", sneered Richard, pressing home his advantage. "If you let me have the detailed expenses forms of the entire SCR since 1982 and guarantee that the standard of College meals will rise dramatically in the course of the next couple of days, then maybe, just maybe, I won't tell anybody about it".
All the Domestic Bursar could do was nod his agreement.
At seven o'clock that evening Richard stood beneath the guttering street-lamp in Bulwark's Lane. Earlier on, after spending as much as ten or fifteen minutes studying the documents he had carried off from the Domestic Bursar, he had synchronised watches, or montres, as he had had to refer to them, with the Whiffley Road crew and finalised his plan.
"Allons-y, fils de Coll", hissed a voice from the shadows. There was Cal who had slipped away from the Master's fromage-et-vin pour un instant to surreptitiously introduce Richard to the proceedings.
"Merci bien, espece de melon", whispered Richard, slipping quietly through the Master's front door. Just off the passageway he found the Master's study. Noiselessly he stepped over its threshold and turned on the light. Then, he rehearsed in his mind the things of importance he had to say.
Soon the footsteps of the Master were audible coming from the direction of his sitting-room. The door swung open and the man himself stepped through. At first he didn't notice his long-term undergraduate standing by the window, but when he did, Richard found it hard to tell whether it was guilt or merely surprise that crossed his furrowed brow.
"Hello...er...I'm sorry, I'm not sure that I remember your name?" said the Master. "Did I invite you to my little soiree? Are you a finalist?"
"My name is Head", said Head, "Richard Head. No, you didn't invite me, but you've no need to feel embarassed about that. And no, I'm not a finalist. You came here, I think, at the request of one of your guests, to fetch a book he asked you to lend him. Here it is. But I think I'll hang on to it for a minute or two, to use, if necessary, as evidence. " Sure enough, the Master was in search of 'A History of Thirteenth Century Italian Heresiarchs', the very volume that Richard had infiltrated his study to locate.
Richard took the warning note from his pocket and matched it with a missing patch of the book's title page.
"It was a clever ploy, Master, to leave a note on the piano. Of course, no one who was about to play the piano would have taken it seriously, but if found afterwards, it could have easily deflected suspicion from you. It was your bad luck that I managed to establish which book the page had been torn from. Master, I think you had better sit down, and listen to what I have to say. I know that you have already made one cowardly attack on my life. I want you where I can easily see you; but don't make any moves. I warn you that I have written down all that I know, and have lodged it in a safety deposit box which shall, in the event of my untimely death, be presented to the Daily Mirror as an exclusive story. You wouldn't want to risk that happening would you? Anything associated with Robert Maxwell immediately loses all credibility. Look at Kingsley Amis". The Master sighed and sat in a large leather armchair. "What do you wish to say to me, Head?" he said.
"First,I want to ask you why Sir Frances Wornher's name is spelt with an e instead, as is usual with male Francises, with an i".
"The good professor", replied the Master, "does not, alas, know how to spell. This may seem odd, but you must remember that he is an expert on James Joyce".
"I see", said Richard. "You, however,can spell very well. As a result you found your warning note difficult to compose. When I discovered that the note had been torn from this book, I recalled the conversation about it that you and other members of the SCR had had outside the ruins of the music-room. There was no proof that any of you had written the note, but it was worth thinking about. Sir Frances I have just ruled out, as a bad speller would not have had to resort to the crude deviations demonstrated here; and Major Heart-Surgery was shell-shocked during the Falklands campaign, and as a carrier of sensitive explosives would have been quite unsuitable. No, if it was any of you that had placed the warning, then it had to be you, and because you find that spelling comes naturally to you, you had to refer to the book itself for ideas. Such things as letter-substitution are simple enough, S for C and so on. But leafing through the book itself in the library I discovered in the second footnote on page seventy-four an obscure reference to the little-known Fourteenth-Century Lollardic sect known contemporaneously as the Cambrigg Bois, led by the suffragan Bishop of St. Neot's Theophilus Boot. I needed to know whether you had your own copy of the book. By consulting the expense accounts of the entire membership of the SCR since the publication of the 'History of Thirteenth Century Italian Heresiarchs', and was able to establish that only you had bought a copy. Anyone else who had read it, with the exception of the Junior Dean, whose personal copy, which he paid for himself, I have already checked, must have known it as a library copy".
"You are forgetting one person", said the Master, shifting in his chair.
"He is a Biochemist, and so doesn't count".
"Fair enough", said the Master, settling again.
"Now then", said Richard, discovering that the Master had brought a full glass of wine into the library with him, "I knew that the note had been written with access to a copy of this book, but that person also had to have access to a means of entering the music-room at a time when nobody would notice. I ruled out the Porter straight away. He was snoring at the time in question, and he certainly wouldn't want the JCR bar prices to go up. What's more, I am almost certain that he has no interest in Heresiarchs of any sort, let alone Italian ones of the Thirteenth Century".
"The Junior Dean, however,seemed a good bet. It was his wish to surpass the Junior Deaning record of the infamous Lockwood. What's more, he was seen in the Lodge at about the right time, and possesses a copy of the book. Being Junior Dean, however, he has a natural respect for law and order, and a copious supply of notepaper. His copy of the book was unsullied, but he writes so many notes fining undergraduates, that it would be natural for him, should he wish to write such a warning, to use the paper that immediately came to hand. I didn't think it was him. What's more, the attack on my life came at a time when he was holding his weekly legal advice surgery".
"The Domestic Bursar, of course, also had a motive, and also, being someone who does a great deal of the College buying, would have access to the right quantities of explosives. He has no book, however, and in the course of my interview with him I was able to establish that at the time in question he had fallen drunkenly into the arms of de Frutasbatos and was certainly in no position to plant the bomb".
"Which brought me to you". Richard took a large swig of the Master's wine and looked into the impassive face across the room from him.
"You have done well, Head. But what about a motive, and why the American? And what, what's more, about oportunity? Did anybody see me in the area at the time?" Although he seemed calm and composed, Richard guessed that the Master was clutching at straws.
"These were the most difficult aspects of the case. I can only conjecture about the American, but this is what I would guess: he was not in the darts team or the drinking team, and would therefore not have been greatly missed by the undergraduates of the College. His family live abroad, and so you could have delayed sending the sad news to them till after the worst of the evidence has decomposed, and the witnesses have been scattered over the face of the globe by the advent of the summer vacation".
"As for opportunity, this puzzled me greatly. There was a witness to everybody who went near the Lodge during the night in question. A witness who could see people's feet, and as a result of great familiarity with those feet, was able to recognise whose they were. He saw the Junior Dean, and sure enough the Junior Dean could not deny it. He had not, however, seen you. In the course of my conversation with the Domestic Bursar, however, I discovered that you had been to a Fancy-dress dinner that evening, and that you had attended in the guise of a Junior Dean. Little wonder that my informant hadn't seen you. He just thought that the Junior Dean had returned with some more fines. In your fiendish disguise, you let yourself into the Porter's cubby-hole, where you extracted the requisite key and went on with your evil scheme".
"The only thing I still couldn't put my finger on was why you had done it. What motive could you possibly have? Then I remembered something that one of my informants had told me. Earlier on in the day, you had been depressed because other college chiefs had been teasing you about our position in the Norrington Table. You could plead with your undergraduates to work harder, but that wouldn't necessarily work. You could send people down, but you knew that others would get Thirds out of pique. Then you hit upon your plan. It is widely known that people who die before they have an opportunity to sit finals are awarded posthumous Firsts. If you could cause the odd death here and there amongst your charges, then that might make all the difference. It was a devilish scheme, but you have been caught out. Now you must mend your ways".
There was silence in the room. Richard swallowed the last of the Master's wine and waited for a response. The Master scratched the side of his nose.
"I haven't met such a brilliant opponent as you since I last took on Dr. Who", he said generously. "What do you propose to do with me? You are quite right, of course, in every detail".
Richard smiled indulgently. "I wouldn't like to see the College dragged through the mud, any more than you. I think we can probably come to some sort of agreement". The Master leaned forward, interested.
"First", said Richard, "You must replace the scintillating Handehoch piano with something British. Everybody is sick of trying to pronounce the name of this bloody Hun affair". The Master assented.
"Then, so that I can keep a closer eye on the way the College is run, you must fix up an honorary BA, in whatever is easiest, for me; and arrange a fair-sized grant so that I can make a start on a PhD in brewing sciences. Then, having fixed up real membership of the MCR for me, you can fix it so I become the College's next Junior Dean. And you can freeze the bar prices for the next five years, using the income from the insurance payment on the destruction of the music-room as a subsidy, should that be necessary. That is the price of my alliance".
"You ask a lot, Head", said the Master, "but I have no choice but to agree".
"I asssure you, Master, that I do it for the greater good of the College. And to prove this, let me put a suggestion to you. You wished to kill people to improve our position in the Norrington Table. A clever plan. But why does one need to kill people? There are many undergraduates who would willingly pretend to be dead for the sake of a First. All you have to do is find somebody who wishes to work for the BBC or something, obtain his agreement, and inform the University authorities that he is dead, and hand him his First. Alternatively, you could admit non-existent people to the College, and kill them off during their time here". The Master stared at Richard, mouth hanging open.
"Head", he expostulated, "That is brilliant. I shall get to work on it straight away. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yes", said Richard. "The American owed me a drink. Perhaps you could inherit the debt?" The Master smiled, and reached in his pocket.